Pianist Roberto Plano returned to the Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford Tuesday for a nearly sold-out crowd for a solo recital. Sold-out is a bit of a misnomer, as the concert was presented free as a benefit to the Zeiterion and the New Bedford Symphony’s educational programs, but packing a house this large is no small feat. This was Plano’s third time performing at the Zeiterion; twice before he had been a soloist with the New Bedford Symphony, and he will be back with the Symphony in May performing both Ravel Piano Concerti on an all French program.
Plano spoke during both halves of the program, describing his warm relationship with the Symphony and how that had influenced him to join the faculty of Boston University College of Fine Arts and bring his family over from Italy to reside here. Plano was the First Prize Winner at the 2001 Cleveland International Piano Competition, a prize winner at the Honens, Dublin, Sendai, Geza Anda, and Valencia Competitions, a finalist at the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and a first prize winner at many national competitions in his native Italy.
Four pieces from Harmonies poetiques et religieuses by Franz Liszt: Hymne de l’enfant a son reveil (The Awakening Child’s Hymn), Invocation, Andante lagrimoso, Cantiques d’Amour (Hymn of Love), and Funerailles, were not the bravura, rock star Liszt of his wild touring days as a concert pianist but rather, from his thoughtful, introspective, questing philosopher phase. Having written the set in 1847 at the estate of his mistress Marie d’Agoult, Liszt took the title from a book of poems by the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine, and prefaces the collection with a fragment from the preface of the book:
“There are some meditative souls that solitude and contemplation raise inevitably towards ideas that are infinite, that is towards religion; all their thoughts are converted into enthusiasm and prayer, all their existence is a mute hymn to the Divine and to hope. They seek in themselves and in the creation that surrounds them, steps to climb to God, expressions and images to reveal him to them, and to reveal themselves to him.”
Plano’s deep thoughtfulness evoked the familiar photograph of Liszt as an older man in his religious collar, a man who had journeyed far, lived hard, and seen much. Plano’s technique is sure and solid, and his dynamic range commanding. Plano is also able to clearly delineate melodic lines in complex contrapuntal passages, making for lyrical phrasing of the highest order.
After intermission, the mood changed substantially as Plano performed works by American composers, seeming fully at home in playful, sensuous, and lush Latin rhythms and folk music echoes.
A lovely and melodic Milonga del Angel by Astor Piazzola preceded Impressoes seresteiras (from Ciclo Brasileiro) by Heitor Villa Lobos; and Milonga op. 3 “Cancion del Arbol Del Olvido” Suite de danzas criollas op. 15 by Alberto Ginastera. The movements of the Suite that stood out were Adagietto pianissimo, a sexy habanera, the Allegro rustico which had the tenderness of a warm summer day, and the Allegretto cantabile which featured chords smashed with a flat hand. All in all it was a fantastic! The recital ended with Gershwin’s own solo piano version of Rhapsody in Blue. This work is so familiar that it takes quite a bit to make an original performance. Plano did this in spades. Introspective, jazzy, melodious, expansive—a tour de force. One did not miss the orchestra, since Plano had provided everything needed.
It will be worth a drive to New Bedford to hear this artist again in the spring.
Elisa Birdseye, executive director of the Boston Chamber Ensemble, is an active freelance violist and principal violist of the New Bedford Symphony. Additionally, she has worked as the general manager of the New England Philharmonic and Boston Musica Viva.